Obama's Climate Bill Passes House, Fate Unclear in Senate

By CHARLES BABINGTON
|  Saturday, Jun 27, 2009  |  Updated 9:07 AM PDT
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Sen. Harry Reid is optimistic he can lead the Senate to pass Obama's historic climate bill that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi touted as "transformational" after a 219-212 vote in the House.

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Hours after the House passed landmark legislation meant to curb greenhouse gas emissions and create an energy-efficient economy, President Barack Obama on Saturday urged senators to show courage and follow suit.

The sharply debated bill's fate is unclear in the Senate, and Obama used his weekly radio and Internet address to ratchet up pressure on the 100-seat chamber.

"My call to every senator, as well as to every American, is this," he said. "We cannot be afraid of the future. And we must not be prisoners of the past. Don't believe the misinformation out there that suggests there is somehow a contradiction between investing in clean energy and economic growth."

Obama said the bill would create jobs, make renewable energy profitable and decrease America's dependence on foreign oil.

"It will spur the development of low-carbon sources of energy — everything from wind, solar and geothermal power to safer nuclear energy and cleaner coal," he said.

House Democratic leaders said the bill helped accomplish one of Obama's campaign promises and would make the U.S. a leader in international efforts to address climate change when negotiations take place in Copenhagen later this year.

"We passed transformational legislation, which will take us into the future," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., after the 219-212 vote.

"For some it was a very difficult vote because the entrenched agents of the status quo were out there full force, jamming the lines in their districts and here, and they withstood that," Pelosi said.

The vote marked the first time either house of Congress has passed legislation to curb global warming gases. The legislation, totaling about 1,200 pages, would require the U.S. to reduce carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions by 17 percent from 2005 levels by 2020 and by 83 percent by mid-century.

Success will be tougher in the Senate. Majority Leader Harry Reid says he wants to take up the legislation by the fall. Sixty 60 votes will be needed to overcome any Republican filibuster.

The "razor-thin vote in the House spells doom in the Senate," said Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., the top Republican on the Senate's environment panel.

Reid, D-Nev., was more optimistic.

"The bill is not perfect, but it is a good product for the Senate," Reid said. "Working with the president and his team, I am hopeful that the Senate will be able to debate and pass bipartisan and comprehensive clean energy and climate legislation this fall."

Supporters and opponents agreed that the legislation would lead to higher energy costs. But they disagreed on the impact on consumers.

Democrats pointed to two reports — one from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office and the other from the Environmental Protection Agency — that suggested average increases would be limited after tax credits and rebates were taken into account. The CBO estimated the bill would cost an average household $175 a year, the EPA $80 to $110 a year. But Republicans and industry groups say the real figure would much higher.

The White House and congressional Democrats argued the bill would create millions of green jobs as the nation shifts to greater reliance on renewable energy sources such as wind and solar and development of more fuel-efficient vehicles — and away from use of fossil fuels such as oil, gas and coal.

It will "make our nation the world leader on clean energy jobs and technology," said Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., who negotiated deals with dozens of lawmakers in recent weeks to broaden the bill's support.

Republicans saw it differently.

This "amounts to the largest tax increase in American history under the guise of climate change," declared Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind.

In the Republicans' weekly radio and Internet address, House GOP leader John Boehner of Ohio said, "By imposing a tax on every American who drives a car or flips on a light switch, this plan will drive up the prices for food, gasoline and electricity."

But Obama said the measure would cost the average American about the price of a postage stamp per day.

"It is paid for by the polluters who currently emit dangerous carbon emissions," the president said. "It provides assistance to businesses and families as they make the gradual transition to clean energy technologies."

In California alone, Obama said, 3,000 people will be employed to build a new solar plant that will create 1,000 permanent jobs.

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